The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) work with the Asotin Conservation District to restore and protect the Asotin Creek watershed in southeast Washington recently was recognized with a Conservation Partnership Award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The award was presented Oct. 26 in Walla Walla by USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Mark Rey, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Rep. Cathy McMorris.
The award was accepted by John Andrews, director of WDFW’s eastern Washington regional office, and Mark Schuck of Dayton and Kent Mayer of Clarkston, both WDFW fish research biologists.
Mayer, who is conducting a study of anadromous salmonid populations in the Asotin Creek watershed, said that although Asotin Creek is a small tributary to the Snake River, its steelhead population is uniquely prolific.
“That’s due largely to many years of work by local landowners to enhance and protect the overall health of the stream,” Andrews said.
Landowners have worked through the Asotin Conservation District and the NRCS with tillage management systems that protect the stream’s water quality, said Gus Hughbanks, NRCS state conservationist. Landowners also have used fencing to keep cattle off the stream, thus protecting critical fish-spawning areas.
Most populations of Snake River basin anadromous salmonids—steelhead, spring/summer chinook salmon and bull trout—are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Although salmonid monitoring in the Asotin watershed has been under way since at least 1981, Mayer’s work specifically on steelhead began in 2003. To date it has shown that the Asotin Creek summer steelhead population is robust and the stream’s condition is a model for other watersheds.
“Our collaboration with the Asotin Conservation District to protect stream habitat over the last 20 years has certainly paid off,” said Andrews. “It’s no wonder this became Washington’s first Model Watershed program under the NRCS plan back in the ‘90s.”
Andrews noted the collaboration expanded in 2001 under the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s sub-basin planning process and development of the Snake River Salmon Recovery Plan in 2005.